2018 Favorites

I read and watched some things in 2018. Here are some of my favorites!

Romantic Comedies

Romantic comedy has been incredibly important to me since I was ten or eleven, and my brother came home from music camp and told me the entire story of You’ve Got Mail scene for scene (“And she has Kleenex everywhere in her apartment, so she’s stuffing them in her coat pocket . . .”). As everyone who watches movies knows, romantic comedies have been BAD for like 15 years. But they’re back, baby!

My objective, in-order-of-quality, ranking of this year’s offerings:

  1. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
  2. Crazy Rich Asians
  3. Set It Up
  4. Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again!
  5. Book Club
  6. Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
  7. Dumplin’

Also watched, without feeling a need to add to the rankings: I Feel Pretty and Destination Wedding. I didn’t get to Sierra Burgess and I’ll (probably) never watch The Kissing Booth.

Mendelssohn Piano Trio

My roommate played a gig with a cellist in the spring of this year, and when the cellist found out I play piano, she asked if the three of us could play something together sometime. In June, she gave us music for Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio №1 in D Minor. I sat down at my piano, slowly sightread the first page, thought, Wow, I can actually play this! Then I checked the metronome marking.

That was a cruel awakening.

Still, nearly every day during the summer, I practiced. I relearned that thing I used to know about music: when you teach your fingers what to play, they eventually perform for you. Maybe not every time, maybe not every note, but they do the job. And then, I relearned that other thing I used to know about music: when you play a piece of music, it becomes a part of your existence, part of your bones. It’s an amazing thing to feel music embedded into the very structure of your body.

Howards End

I’m not sure whether or not to call this a reread, because while I know I read the book sometime in my pre-10 years, nothing stayed with me beyond the barest plot details. So for the second time in two years, a reread of something I read too young was my read of the year (last year: Remains of the Day). Howards End is serious about so many things, about the way we connect with each other, about the way we balance our personal spirituality and materiality. I thought about Forster’s repeated return to the idea of proportion — “Mrs. Wilcox had taken the middle course, which only rarer natures can pursue. She had kept proportion,” and “You mean to keep proportion, and that’s heroic.” I’ve spent hours of my life wondering where Margaret Schlegel falls on the axis of practical and delusional. I don’t identify much with Helen Schlegel, but I felt personally victimized by this: “At twenty-five she had an idée fixe. What hope was there for her as an old woman?” And, as a bonus to a music lover, there’s a hilarious discussion about classical music which is a little too harsh to Elgar, and just right about Wagner.

Also: A significant portion of my 2018 reading journal notes are devoted to Catherine Kenney’s The Remarkable Case of Dorothy Sayers, a companion/bio/literary analysis hodgepodge about the creator of Peter Wimsey. On one page of my notebook, I’ve quoted in all caps, “THE UNDENIABLE POWER OF A POWER THAT IS NOT INVOKED.”

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

I don’t like using tears as any kind of metric, but, well, I was fairly baptized in tears during this film. This is a simple story of a man who felt called by God to do good in the world, and who worked very hard and thought a lot about how he might best do that. This is a story I needed right now.

First Reformed

First Reformed is the only movie I watched this year that has consistently come back to mind (I know, I know, I need to watch more movies). I’ve replayed so many scenes in my mind, never confident I understood the purpose of everything, but always fascinated by each bizarre event and picture. I think a lot about the central question, too: Can God forgive us? I’m religious enough to believe I know the answer to that. But a closely akin question, Will God forgive us, resonates when every day, some new evil is supported, rationalized, justified, or carried out by self-proclaimed Christians who have chosen to neglect the call of God to protect both his material and his human creation.

Also: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, which is a gift from the universe to me, specifically.

The Atlantic (Adam Serwer, especially)

I read quite a few publications, but this year, I found myself reading The Atlantic nearly every day. McKay Coppins, Emma Green, David Sims, Megan Garber, Peter Beinart, David Frum, Alia Wong, James Hamblin — I’ve read much of what these authors have produced this year. Adam Serwer has been the most consequential for me, however, and his (now well-known) essay, “The Cruelty is the Point,” is one of the best at diagnosing our current political and cultural situation.

Also: Alexandra Petri’s columns for WaPo. I read every one. I immoderately love every one.

Who! Weekly

Bobby and Lindsey save my life every week. Some of my biggest laughs of the year have been from conversations or clips on this podcast (most recently, the Miranda Otto Eowyn singing clip from the extended editions of LOTR.) Beyond the expertly pitched tone of sarcasm from Bobby, or the loud, hilarious non-apologies of Lindsey every time she gets some minutiae wrong that all the callers will call them on (GENOVIA is the country in Princess Diaries) — beyond the playful discussion of people I know nothing about, Who! Weekly functions as a smart consideration of tabloid media, digital and print. I still may not be able to recognize a picture of Rita Ora, but I can tell you a lot about Daily Mail headlines. (I’m also very good at Bobby’s Hallmark Christmas movies quiz.)

Also: BlankCheck’s Nancy Meyers miniseries. Like Buster Scruggs, a gift from the universe to me, specifically.

Matthew MacFadyen

This summer I watched my two favorite (TV) performances of the year, from the same actor, and I’ve spent the rest of the year thinking about how intertwined they are. Tom Wamsgans (Succession) and Henry Wilcox (Howards End) are rich, oblivious men. Both are successful at ignoring anything true about the world, both are insufferably confident in a particularly misogynistic way. Both men are forced to come to some awareness. For Tom Wamsgans, Matthew MacFayden plays a man so blank to reality, that the moment when the truth about Shiv finally comes to him, the jolt in awareness feels strong enough to shatter the screen. In Howards End, Macfadyen has perfected Hail Caesar’s mirthless chuckle — Wilcox is brisk, jolly, and humorless. At the end (SOMEWHAT OF A SPOILER), when his firstborn son is about to be lost to him, he sits weeping in a beautiful garden, broken in spirit and posture. He cannot maintain that shell of business and self-possession. All that is left is the broken fragments of his dying worldview.

Also: Hugh Grant’s performance in A Very English Scandal. In his last conversation, he drops the mask of his capable self and reveals the horror of what he, too, has endured. I was devastated.

Here’s to a great 2019!

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Teacher and musician who occasionally writes about artistic experiences and moral problems.

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RuthAnn Ledgerwood

Teacher and musician who occasionally writes about artistic experiences and moral problems.